Stereotypes & Archetypes

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: language matters. Initially, I wanted to be upset when I came across both the Paydro logo (shown at left) and to point number 11 on this list about punctuation marks because from where I stand, they’re offensive. However, anger is never the answer, it merely begs you to ask the question: Why is X bothering me? Often, the answer to that will require you to grapple with yourself for a bit to figure it out, but once you do it can shed a light to cope with the root source of your frustration effectively.

In this case, it was coping with my own reactions to what felt like racism. I’m always cautious about how I get riled up over race issues because I am hypersensitive to the fact that as a woman of color, I can fall into the angry woman of color stereotype trap (this is a lengthier article about stereotypes that plague women of color). The problem with that trope is that it’s a slippery slope, and once I slide down it I feel like I’ll lose any and all credibility as a sane and rational human being – which is very important to me because if you don’t think I’m sane and rational person, you’ll stop listening to me and any hopes for communication will be lost.

To combat this dangerous possibility of being discredited, I’ve decided that the only logical solution is to deconstruct the emotion and its cause until I get to its source, because emotions don’t occur in a vacuum (in other words, I do my due diligence). In Paydro’s case, they’re a non-US start-up company (specifically, they’re in Amsterdam) in the event industry, much like EventBrite. It makes sense that if you’re making a web solution to what is essentially large scale party planning, you’d want your company’s name and logo to reflect that, right?

So, back to the Paydro hat: to me, it’s clearly designed to look like a Mexican hat. If you don’t believe me (or want to play the “you’re just being too sensitive” game) I dare you: do a Google search for “Mexican hat” and “Party hat” and tell me if your results come out differently than my own. Two searches: “Mexican hat” and “party hat.” If you really want to see the resemblance, google “sombrero.”

This is where I want to say a picture’s worth a thousand words, because the images speak for themselves. What bothers me is the play on the name (“Paydro” sounds very close to “Pedro” – in Spanish the equivalent of the name Peter) combined with the hat on the “P” in their logo tell a story that goes like this: a group of people were scratching their heads to come up with a creative logo for their company. Somewhere along the way, it was decided that it was ok to utilize a sombrero because the company’s name sounds similar to Pedro, and it makes sense because as a collective group, Mexicans are known for their love of fun and partying. Right? If they weren’t, then why else would it be considered fine to post the following as point number eleven about punctuation:

Punctuation: Tilde~
Meaning: You’re either a punctuation master not confined to the traditional system…or you’re Hispanic. Either way, you’re probably a really good time!

Granted, both examples are trying to be funny or cute, but for whatever message they’re trying to convey to come out successfully, they’ve got to be relying on an underlying subtext. Jokes stop being funny when you have to explain them because brevity’s the soul of wit. This is where we get into trouble, though, because for these two to get to their point, they’re relying on the commonly accepted stereotype that Mexicans are a people that love to party.

What could be wrong with that, you ask? Doesn’t everyone want to just be foot-loose and fancy-free, and go to a fiesta all the time? The problem with stereotypes is that they tell very specific stories about other people, and regardless of whether the person wants to be associated with that story or not, they will be because ultimately who we are is as an individual is impacted by how we’re interpreted by the rest of the world. This is why the stories we tell matter (I know, I’m beating a dead horse here) because even if I could somehow convince myself that I was Julius Caesar, the second I’d step out into the world I’d be bombarded with evidence that in fact, I am actually not the ancient male Roman emperor. It’d be insanity for me to refuse to correctly identify myself, but it would be just as crazy to accept labels thrust upon me against my will that I know have to accurate bearing on the person I know I am. Stereotypes let us put others inside nice little boxes, because they give us easy scripts to defer to when we meet someone new. These scripts may seem phenomenally useful, as our brains are constantly bombarded by information we do need ways to filter out what is important, and what is not.

Do you see the forest, or do you see the trees?
Photo: Lofty by Nicholas T

Whenever you put someone into a box you’re giving yourself permission to cease to see the person for who they actually are since you’ll be convinced that you already know everything you need to know about them. As the expression goes, you’ll be to busy not seeing the forest for all the trees. This is willful ignorance, and we choose it out of laziness as we don’t want to examine the possibility that our preconceived notions may be wrong – likely because it’s terrifying to imagine that we can be wrong. We fear what we don’t know, but until we know better we won’t do better. Life is a learning process, and we learn through our interactions with the world – and we likely learn the most through our dialogues with others. So steer away from stereotypes and you’ll be free to see the beauty of forest, and recognize that it is full of splendor because of each individual tree that is in it.

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